By Howard Hian
The Invitation. “Hey Dad, want to crew for me?” Magical words. My immediate response was, “Of course. Where? When?” My son Ben was planning to run the Free State 100K in Lawrence, Kansas at Clinton State Park. Any race over marathon length (26.2 miles) is considered an ultra-marathon. Ben runs approximately 100 miles each week, as well as biking, spinning and weightlifting. The month leading up to the event, Ben ran ten tune-ups, ranging from 15 to 35 miles. The week prior, he ran 30 miles total; his mind and body were ready.
On Location. In Clinton State Park we stayed in a modern, bright and airy, fully equipped cabin, overlooking a picturesque lake and, most important, conveniently located at the course. A bulky suitcase full of clothing and shoes accompanied us along with two large coolers filled with food, drink and snacks. Ben usually competes in 100 mile ultras and my opportunities to see him are at the start and finish, plus aid stations at mile 50 and 75. This 100K (62.5 miles) had an interesting layout; three loops of 20+ miles each, over rocky and hilly terrain. The configuration allowed me to see Ben two extra times. Since this was a “short” race for him, his expectations were high.
Crewing. Like NASCAR, it’s giddy-up at a pit stop. The job is basically seconds of frenzied work, followed by traveling to the next aid station, setting up again, sending updates to friends and family, and waiting. GPS is a huge help getting from spot to spot, since many races are in rural locales. After studying the course, we organized a hit list of my specific jobs at each rest area. It was my responsibility to ensure that Ben was “on plan” and, at his request, make necessary adjustments for the next station. Weather is always a wild card and that’s especially true in Kansas in the spring. Cold? Add a layer. Sunny? Slather up with sunscreen. Hot? Change to a short sleeve shirt and soak a bandana in ice water for him to wrap around his neck. Rain and Mud? Have dry shoes and socks available. Ben burns at least 2,000 calories in an ultra, so sufficient food intake during the race is critical. Another job included dishing out food and snacks. Real estate’s “location, location, location,” becomes the runner’s mantra, “hydration, hydration, hydration!” We came prepared with double packs, bladders and color coded-bottles filled with water, seltzer, sports drinks and a secret orange potion concocted by Ben.
Race Day. The morning was crisp and clear as the 66 entrants began in an adrenaline-fueled herd, bunched up for the only time during the next hours. At the first aid station, I could see Ben in the distance, on the heels of the front two runners. Then they vanished down a hollow out of my view. As I watched them reappear, there was no Ben. I looked at my watch and waited; one, two, three minutes and then he popped into view. When he arrived, I asked, “Where the heck did you disappear to?” Ben smiled and said that there is another kind of pit stop. The next time I saw him, he was leading by 23 minutes. The gap widened as the day wore on. At the second to last stop before the finish, a runner pulled in first with no Ben in sight. Although Ben wasn’t due for another few minutes, I was very confused since he had such a commanding lead. Was Ben injured? Was this going to be a Kansas Rosie Ruiz or Kip Litton moment? I asked the race official about the status of the newly arrived person. He smiled and replied, “Don’t worry, Ben is about to lap him.” Hadn’t thought of that! How’d Ben do? He set a new course record of 8:53:22, beating the old one by almost 17 minutes. For a proud Dad and crew chief, it doesn’t get better than that.
Clinton State Park. The 1500-acre recreational area is open year ‘round and features one of the largest marinas in the state, as well as any outdoor activity imaginable: year-round camping, picnic areas, playgrounds, beaches, fishing and trails for hiking, biking and skiing. I highly recommend the spacious cabins. For information and reservations, go to www.kdwpt.state.ks.us and search for Clinton State Park.
Free State 100K. The Kansas City Trail Nerds, www.psychowyco.com, organized the event. There were concurrent races of 40 miles plus a full and a half marathon. Yearly, the Trail Nerds host twenty-two races, schedule weekly group trail runs and offer advice on running, shoes, nutrition and more.
Lawrence, KS. My only regret was that we weren’t able to spend more time in this vibrant college town, home to the University of Kansas. The campus is rich with sightseeing opportunities. Visit the eclectic downtown area with its dining and shopping. Go to www.visitlawrence.com for travel ideas and itineraries. On the way to and in Lawrence, we found one of my favorite chains, Culver’s, www.culvers.com. Try my two favorites, the signature butterburger and a concrete mixer. There are locations throughout the Midwest.
Travel Goodies. A comfy silk DreamSack and matching pillow case from Magellan’s, www.magellans.com, provided luxury bedding. The compact, noise cancelling headphones by AblePlanet, also from Magellan’s, did a first-rate job keeping down airplane din. Magellan’s tagline is “Your Trusted Source of Travel Supplies.” I agree. Amblers by Keen, www.keenfootwear.com and two pair of their Merino Wool Crew Lite Hiking socks with left and right fit were ideal choices for my tasks, which included lots of walking and scrambling up and down hills. I’m a big fan of quick-dry, lightweight clothing for travel. Royal Robbins, www.royalrobbins.com, fit the bill perfectly with their 100% nylon Global Traveler pants and two 100% polyester shirts; the Dri-Release Base Crew and the Expedition Light.
Safe travels and enjoy the journey…